Northamptonshire County Council’s portion of the council tax bill will rise by 1.99 per cent in 2014-15, as it looks to make savings of £128 million over the next five years.
The authority has published its draft budget today (Tuesday), and says it will maintain its position as the lowest taxing county council in England despite the increase, which will cost the average household an extra 39p a week.
The increase, the first hike in council tax for four years, is below a Government-imposed ceiling. Authorities which put forward plans for a raise of two or more per cent are required to hold a local referendum on the proposal.
Northamptonshire County Council’s cabinet has also outlined plans to embark on a “huge new integration” with the NHS regarding provision of health and social care, calling this an “historic shift” in the way services are provided.
The authority has also pledged to increase spending to £12 million on the failing children’s services, which were rated as inadequate by Ofsted earlier this year, while maintaining spending on library services, country parks and its road maintenance programme.
It will make an additional one-off payment of £1.6 million to children’s services to help implement its improvement programme.
Meanwhile, the council is looking at the possibility of charging people to use recycling centres, as part of a review into the 10 sites across the county. The review aims to save £1 million over five years, and will look at each site’s viability.
“Today marks not just the publication of the budget proposals, but also the publication of a new council plan outlining a new set of priorities for Northamptonshire,” said Cllr Jim Harker, the leader of the council.
“Within this budget we are also making it clear that some of our services have a red line around them, to ensure that despite the huge financial challenges we are tackling, there will be no service reductions in those areas.
“We are still, despite the slight increase in council tax, well below the rate of inflation. That was a promise we made nine years ago when we took control of the county council, when I was first leader.”
The finance portfolio holder, Cllr Bill Parker, said council tax had been frozen over the last three years because the authority was taking advantage of a Government scheme offering to make up part of the shortfall.
But he said that incentive no longer made financial sense, while a 1.99 per cent increase would raise £5 million a year.
He added: “On a Band D property in Northamptonshire that (increase) is the equivalent of about £20 a year or about 39p a week.
“I sincerely hope that the people of Northamptonshire will understand that, while this is a small increase, it will do a lot to help save the services we have to provide.”
Describing himself as pleased with the budget proposed, he said: “We have put another £12 million, over the next five years, into children’s services to bring that service up to the standard it should be at. We have tried to minimise the impact on frontline services, and I think, all in all, it is a very good budget.”
Cllr Mick Scrimshaw, Labour’s shadow cabinet member for finance, said: “It must be embarrassing for George Osborne that yet another of his own councils has opted to defy Conservative Party policy and increase council tax by 1.99 per cent this year.
“From the outset, the Labour group at County Hall has been clear that this Tory administration was wrong to have frozen council tax. A rise of 1.99 per cent year-on-year from 2011-12 would have provided the council with approximately £6m – this may well have prevented the crisis we are currently facing in children’s services.”
The budget still has to be approved by full council, with a meeting taking place in February.